Effective Environmental Policy in the Age of Man

https://i1.wp.com/graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2011/05/17/opinion/17rfd-image/17rfd-image-custom1.jpg

The rate and scale of human-induced global environmental change is so significant that it now constitutes a new geological epoch in the Earth’s history called the Anthropocene.

The acceleration of human pressure on the Earth’s system has caused critical global, regional and local thresholds to be exceeded. This could have irreversible effects on the life-support function of the planet with adverse implications for human health and wellbeing. More than ever, there is a need to have appropriate and effective environmental policies to make the transition to a low carbon and sustainable society.

New social movements, political parties, greater media coverage of environmental disasters, and a growing body of scientific evidence on the effects of environmental pollution have all led to an increased imperative to take action.

However, the human cost of environmental change must not be underestimated. For example, population growth and an increased trend towards urbanisation have all had social and environmental consequences. The loss of arable land has increased concerns about food security, and has contributed to higher levels of environmental pollution.

Poor sanitation in developing countries, especially in slum areas on the peripheries of cities is clearly associated with an increase in preventable diseases such as cholera. Additionally, conflicts and social unrest associated with dwindling resources are evident, and are likely to increase if current trends continue.

In addition, the impact of climate change is potentially so profound and could result in population displacement, widespread threats to those living in low lying areas, risks to food security, increased diseases are all predicted impacts of climate change. While the immediate burden of these effects is more likely to fall on developing countries, there are major implications also for developed nations.

In order to effectively address environmental problems through policy, a number of issues needed to be considered:

  • balancing social, economic and environmental objectives
  • „addressing uncertainty, risk and the negative impacts of policies
  • „the scale of the problem and the solution.

Traditionally, environmental policy has had to compete with social and economic objectives. While sustainable development has provided the paradigm to demonstrate that all three are equally important, this has not always been translated into practice.

Attempts have been made, however, to include the environmental costs of human activity into policy evaluation tools by giving a monetary value to the costs and benefits of environmental regulation.

https://garyhaq.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/ae89f-science-and-religion.jpg

At the international level, policy debates have attempted to balance economic and development concerns. One of the strategies of international climate policy is the investment in projects that will encourage greener development trajectories in developing countries.

However, national level policy making is influenced by national political system, national elites, existing policy frameworks or legacies, and any national level environmental concerns. Local level policy is affected by many similar issues, but is often subject to local circumstances.

Meeting future environmental challenges will require more flexible and adaptive global and national governance frameworks. Doing so will also potentially require a redefinition of wealth and prosperity, taking into account the impact of consuming limited and non-renewable resources.

Potential barriers to meeting these challenges  include a lack of political will to make difficult changes with short-term costs, and a lack of public acceptance that such changes are necessary.

In developed countries, popular aspirations, habits and lifestyles which rely on high levels of consumption may not be amenable to the action that is needed to address environmental challenges, suggesting the requirement for change in some aspects of society and social norms.

A further challenge is the requirement to consider the economic development needs of the world’s poorest countries alongside the need for environmental protection.

In the ‘Age of Man’ increasing natural resource scarcity, rising global temperatures, biodiversity loss, environmental pollution and food and energy insecurity means that appropriate and effective environmental policy is vital if we are to remain within planetary boundaries, and ensure the future survival of humankind.

To read more see A Short Guide To Environmental Policy by Caz Snell and Gary Haq (April 2014).

 

 

Advertisements

The Heat is On – Time to Act on Climate Change

78981

A new assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) claims that the warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and its effects are now evident in most regions of the world.

Since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased. Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850. In the Northern Hemisphere, 1983–2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years. Breaking more temperature records than in any other decade.

The authors of the new report on the physical evidence for climate change state that continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system.

The Global surface temperature change for the end of the 21st century is projected to be likely to exceed 1.5°C relative to 1850 to 1900 in all but the lowest scenario considered, and likely to exceed 2°C for the two high scenarios. Heat waves are very likely to occur more frequently and last longer.

As the Earth warms, we expect to see currently wet regions receiving more rainfall, and dry regions receiving less, although there will be exceptions.

It is the poorest regions of the world and the most vulnerable individuals such as the young and elderly who will be most affected.

Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. This will require international action to adopt ambitious legal agreement on climate change in 2015. We will only know over the next year or whether the new evidence will have any impact on national governments who are preoccupied with stimulating growth, reducing debt and increasing employment.

The  assessment draws on millions of observations and over 2 million gigabytes of numerical data from climate model simulations. Over 9,200 scientific publications are cited, more than three quarters of which have been published since the last IPCC assessment in 2007.

drought

Key evidence highlighted in the report is given below with levels of confidence:

  • Ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010 (high confidence). It is virtually certain that the upper ocean (0−700 m) warmed from 1971 to 2010, and it likely warmed between the 1870s and 1971.
  • Over the last two decades, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass, glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide, and Arctic sea ice and Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease in extent (high confidence).
  • The rate of sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the mean rate during the previous two millennia (high confidence). Over the period 1901–2010, global mean sea level rose by 0.19 [0.17 to 0.21] m.
  • The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years.
  • CO2 concentrations have increased by 40% since pre-industrial times, primarily from fossil fuel emissions and secondarily from net land use change emissions. The ocean has absorbed about 30% of the emitted anthropogenic carbon dioxide, causing ocean acidification.
  • Total radiative forcing is positive, and has led to an uptake of energy by the climate system. The largest contribution to total radiative forcing is caused by the increase in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 since 1750.
  • Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system.
  • Climate models have improved since the last 2007 of assessment of the physical evidence on cliamte change. Models reproduce observed continental-scale surface temperature patterns and trends over many decades, including the more rapid warming since the mid-20th century and the cooling immediately following large volcanic eruptions (very high confidence).
  • Observational and model studies of temperature change, climate feedbacks and changes in the Earth’s energy budget together provide confidence in the magnitude of global warming in response to past and future forcing.cc
  • Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes. This evidence for human influence has grown since the last assessment. It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.
  • Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system.
  • Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Global surface temperature change for the end of the 21st century is likely to exceed 1.5°C relative to 1850 to 1900 for all  scenarios except RCP2.6. It is likely to exceed 2°C for RCP6.0 and RCP8.5, and more likely than not to exceed 2°C for RCP4.5.
  • Warming will continue beyond 2100 under all RCP scenarios except RCP2.6. Warming will continue to exhibit interannual-to decadal variability and will not be regionally uniform.
  • Changes in the global water cycle in response to the warming over the 21st century will not be uniform. The contrast in precipitation between wet and dry regions and between wet and dry seasons will increase, although there may be regional exceptions.t767375a
  • The global ocean will continue to warm during the 21st century. Heat will penetrate from the surface to the deep ocean and affect ocean circulation.
  • It is very likely that the Arctic sea ice cover will continue to shrink and thin and that Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover will decrease during the 21st century as global mean surface temperature rises. Global glacier volume will further decrease.
  • Global mean sea level will continue to rise during the 21st century. Under all RCP scenarios the rate of sea level rise will very likely exceed that observed during 1971–2010 due to increased ocean warming and increased loss of mass from glaciers and ice sheets.
  • Climate change will affect carbon cycle processes in a way that will exacerbate the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere (high confidence). Further uptake of carbon by the ocean will increase ocean acidification.
  • Cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond. Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped. This represents a substantial multi-century climate change commitment created by past, present and future emissions of CO2.

The  report increases in the confidence associated with climate observations but whichever facts may be discussed, debated or distorted, we cannot ignore the reality that we must act or face frightening new impacts.

Take the poll and let us know what you think:

Can Economic Growth Deliver the Future We Want?

With Britain’s economy slipping into a double dip recession there is an urgent need to stimulate economic growth. This is widely seen as a panacea that will save us from austerity but can the pursuit of economic growth deliver the future we want?

The post-war period saw many nations equating economic growth with progress driven by technological innovation. While capitalism and the quest for economic growth have produced many benefits, this has come at a cost to the natural environment which is often not reflected in the balance sheet. The expansion of the production of good and services has required large amounts of labour, materials, energy and capital. Economic production has produced pollution and waste, degraded natural habitats and depleted natural resources to an extent that our future survival is now under threat.

In 2008 the world experienced multiple crises with regard to finance, fuel and food that contributed to the worst international economic recession since the 1930s Great Depression. The global financial crisis led to global per capita income contracting and the volume of world trade declining. It demonstrated serious flaws in our current western economic model of development and highlighted the need to reconsider the principles that have guided our economic policy making.

It is now time to think again about economic growth and how we actually measure it. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been used as a key indicator to measure the sum of all goods and services produced in a country over time. However, this national indicator of economic progress does not consider inequality, pollution or damage to people’s health and the environment. Critics have called for GDP to be replaced with new indicators that better measure how our national policies can truly deliver a better quality of life for all.

Economic debate has tended to imply a choice has to be made between going green or going for growth. Yet we have no choice if we are to address simultaneously the current crises in global economic and environmental systems. The traditional pursuit for growth has expanded the economy to such a size that it now must conform to global environmental constraints.

Further growth will be uneconomic because it will produce more social and environmental costs than it does benefits. The only option is for ‘green’ growth that meets the dual objectives of economic growth and environmental protection with a focus on better outcomes not more outputs – a shift from quantity to quality.

In Prosperity Without Growth Tim Jackson argues that this will require a different kind of economy for a different kind of prosperity – one where human beings can flourish within the ecological limits of a finite planet. Our growth economy is driven by the consumption and production of novelty which locks society into an iron cage of consumerism. Change at the personal and societal level is necessary to make the transition to a new form of prosperity that does not depend on unrelenting growth.

In June world leaders were called upon to commit to a revolutionary paradigm shift from traditional quantity-oriented fossil fuel dependent growth towards green growth. More than 100 heads of State and government attended the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janiero to shape new policies to promote prosperity, reduce poverty and advance social equity and environmental protection. The Summit marked twenty years since the original 1992 Rio Earth Summit that set out the framework to address climate change and implement sustainable development into practice.

A transition towards a greener economy requires long-term sustainable growth and the efficient use of natural resources, reduction of carbon emissions, and eradication of poverty. This will require developing a green economy in the UK and working at an international level to tackle long term challenges.

In the short-term the transition to a green economy will involve additional costs and difficult choices. We will need to transform what we produce and how we produce it and take advantage of resource efficiencies. This will be achieved by using new technologies and adopting different ways of living and working, and investing in infrastructure. All economic sectors will need to grow without undermining the capacity of the environment to support our future quality of life. They will need to develop greater resilience to future environmental challenges such as climate change, material, energy and food insecurity and natural disasters.

The transition to a green economy will allow businesses to benefit from resources efficiencies and market opportunities and contribute to creating new green jobs. UK business could save as much as £23 billion a year through efficiency savings by improving the way they use energy and water, and by reducing waste. In addition, they could take advantage of the global market for environmental goods and services which has been estimated to be worth about £2.27 trillion, with forecasts predicting 4 per cent growth on an annual basis.

However, a recent report by the Institute Public Policy Research (IPPR) examined the views of over one hundred British industries on the transition to a green economy, particularly in the energy, transport and manufacturing sectors. Despite David Cameron’s Coalition government claiming to be the greenest government ever, IPPR found that industry was critical of the Coalition due to a perceived disconnect between the rhetoric of ministers and the policies they were pursuing.

Recent policy changes such as the feed-in tariffs for solar photovoltaic installations were seen as shifting the goal posts and doing little to maintain business and investor confidence in the green growth agenda. The report highlighted the need for policymakers to taken on a more active role in addressing the barriers to green growth faced by many manufacturing and energy-intensive industries.

Greening the economy will undoubtedly be good for business, people and the planet. The Earth Summit resulted in the International community simply affirming the need to achieve a green economy. However, the rhetoric contained in the final report of the conference needs to be matched by action. Clear financial incentives are need to encourage greener investment and behaviour in government, businesses and consumers.

If we are to create the future we want we need to need to develop a new form of prosperity that is not dependent on continual growth. Fundamental change to the structure of society and the market economy is needed if real environmental gains are to be achieved. Change on the scale achieved in the industrial revolution is required driven by clean, efficient and sustainable renewable energy technologies. The only solution to austerity is to ensure the UK is firmly placed at the forefront of this new global green revolution.

© Gary Haq 2012

Our Green History

oday environmentalism influences the language and decisions of government, corporations and individuals to an extent that was not possible a century ago.

The belief that the environment should be protected has become widely held throughout society as the global speed and scale of resource use and environmental destruction has been recognised and understood.

As western standards of living have increased, basic material needs have been met, and people have demanded higher standards of environmental quality. But beyond the basic belief that the environment should be protected, there is no agreement on why this is important or how this should be done. There is no unifying set of environmental ideas that society subscribes to nor a single environmental movement united behind a shared cause.

Environmentalism has evolved in complex and sometimes contradictory ways to span conservative, reformist and radical ideas about what the world should look like, as well as how change should be brought about. Each strand of modern environmental thinking brings its own set of ideas about how humanity should organise itself and interact with its environment.

Today environmentalism influences the language and decisions of government, corporations and individuals to an extent that was not possible a century ago.

The belief that the environment should be protected has become widely held throughout society as the global speed and scale of resource use and environmental destruction has been recognised and understood.

As western standards of living have increased, basic material needs have been met, and people have demanded higher standards of environmental quality. But beyond the basic belief that the environment should be protected, there is no agreement on why this is important or how this should be done. There is no unifying set of environmental ideas that society subscribes to nor a single environmental movement united behind a shared cause.

Environmentalism has evolved in complex and sometimes contradictory ways to span conservative, reformist and radical ideas about what the world should look like, as well as how change should be brought about. Each strand of modern environmental thinking brings its own set of ideas about how humanity should organise itself and interact with its environment.

Over the last 60 years these have evolved with each new environmental cause from nuclear power and pesticide use in the 1960s, to acid rain and the depletion of the ozone layer in the 1970s and 1980s and biodiversity loss and climate change in the 1990s and 2000s. Often these causes have taken hold in different countries at different times, each prompted by particular historical circumstances. For this reason environmentalism has been taken up in many forms across generations and the continents of the world.

The explosion of environmental activity in the 1960s did not represent the creation of an entirely new set of ideas. In 1885 German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) wrote: “It would never occur to me to regard the enjoyment of nature as the invention of the modern age.” The same can be said for modern day interest in the environment.

The fact that modern environmental concern spread following atomic bomb tests and to the backdrop of the Vietnam War is a point much referred to by historians and environmentalists. Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring (1962) was amongst the first to link the dangers of the atomic bomb to the misuse of pesticides, emphasising humanity’s capacity to destroy nature and itself.

Over the next ten years a number of publications followed suit, Tragedy of the Commons (1968), and Limits to Growth (1972), raised wider anxieties about the future of the planet, whilst Blueprint for Survival (1972), and Small is Beautiful (1973) sketched out green alternatives. Almost half a century later the anxieties expressed in each of these books are still at the centre of many environmental concerns today.

Media coverage of dramatic pollution events has been instrumental in raising environmental concerns over the last half century.The first major oil spill in Britain occurred when the super tanker Torrey Canyon struck a reef between the UK mainland and the Isles of Scilly in March 1967.

The resulting oil slick covered 120 miles of Cornish coast, killing tens of thousands of birds. Two years later an explosion on the Union Oil Company oil platform, six miles off the coast of Santa Barbara in California, resulted in the release of hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil.

These highly visible examples of humanity’s impact on the environment occurred as the age of colour television began and broadcasters discovered that major pollution events made visually dramatic news stories. Each decade since has witnessed at least one massive oil spill from a super tanker or oil platform, these serve as timely reminders that environmental issues have not gone away.

The history of contemporary environmentalism has been marked by the establishment of new institutions. Campaigns on issues such as pesticide use and nuclear testing led to the development of a new breed of professional campaign groups which have become the public face of environmentalism.

At the same time governments have responded to public concerns about the environment by establishing environmental institutions of their own. Agencies, scientific programmes, international agreements, laws and regulations have been established to support environmental goals.

All this has helped give environmentalism a permanence that has transcended the decades.

This article is based on the book Environmentalism Since 1945 by Gary Haq and Alistair Paul, published by Routledge in September 2011.

© Gary Haq 2011

Co-Benefits of Cutting Black Carbon and Ground-level Ozone

A new UN study highlights the potential benefits of reducing specific air pollutants which not only help to prevent climate change but have a number of positive benefits for human health and agriculture.

If the world is to avoid dangerous climate change and keep a twenty-first century temperature rise below two degrees Celsius or less, it will be necessary to achieve a significant reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide – a key greenhouse gas.

However, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meterological Organisation (WMO) report coordinated by the Stockholm Environment Institute on Integrated Assessment of Black Carbon and Tropospheric Ozone shows that the measures can reduce near-term climate change and premature deaths and crop loss by taking action to reduce these two pollutants.

Black carbon exists as particles in the atmosphere and is a major component of soot. At ground level ozone is an air pollutant harmful to human health and ecosystems and, throughout the lower atmosphere, is also a significant greenhouse gas. Ozone is not directly emitted, but is produced from emissions of precursors of which methane and carbon monoxide are of particular interest.

Black carbon and ozone in the lower atmosphere are harmful air pollutants that have substantial regional and global climate impacts. They disturb tropical rainfall and regional circulation patterns (e.g. the Asian monsoon) affecting the livelihoods of millions of people.

Black carbon’s darkening of snow and ice surfaces increases their absorption of sunlight which, along with global warming, exacerbates melting of snow and ice around the world. This affects the water cycle and increases the risk of flooding.

Black carbon, a component of particulate matter, and ozone both lead to premature deaths worldwide. Ozone is also the most important air pollutant responsible for reducing crop yields and affects food security.

The UNEP/WMO study calls for immediate action to reduce emissions of black carbon and tropospheric ozone, which have the potential to slow the rate of climate change within the first half of this century.

Climate benefits from cutting ozone are achieved by reducing emissions of some of its precursors, especially methane which is also a powerful greenhouse gas. These short-lived climate gases (e.g. black carbon and methane) only remain in the atmosphere for a short time compared to longer-lived greenhouse gases (e.g. carbon dioxide).

The study also highlights how a small number of emission reduction measures targeting black carbon and ozone precursors could immediately begin to protect climate, public health, water and food security, and ecosystems.

The measures include the recovery of methane from coal, oil and gas extraction and transport, methane capture in waste management, use of clean-burning stoves for residential cooking, diesel particulate filters for vehicles and the banning of open burning of agricultural waste.

Full implementation is achievable with existing technology but would require significant and strategic investment and institutional arrangements.

The study claims that the full implementation of the identified measures would reduce future global warming by 0.5 degrees Celsius (within a range of 0.2 – 0.7 Celsius). If the measures were to be implemented by 2030, this could halve the potential increase in global temperature projected for 2050 compared to a reference scenario based on current policies and energy and fuel projections. The rate of regional temperature increase would also be reduced.

In addition, implementation of all the measures could avoid 2.4 million premature deaths (within a range of 0.7- 4.6 million) and the loss of 52 million tonnes (within a range of 30.140 million tonnes), 1.4 per cent, of global production of maize, rice, soybean and wheat each year. The most substantial benefits will be felt immediately in or close to the regions where action is taken to reduce emissions, with the greatest health and crop benefits expected.

The study concludes that there is confidence that immediate and multiple benefits will be achieved upon implementation of the identified measures. The degree of confidence varies according to pollutant, impact and region.

For example, there is higher confidence in the effect of methane measures on global temperatures than in the effect of black carbon measures, especially where these relate to the burning of biomass. There is also high confidence that benefits will be realised for human health from reducing particles, including black carbon, and to crop yields from reducing tropospheric ozone concentrations.

While many of the measures identified by the study are already available and being implemented by some countries, a considerable amount of work will need to be done if these measures are to be implemented on a international level.

A government may ban the burning of agricultural waste burning however enforcement of the ban is a different issue. In developing countries where there is limited resources they may not have he man power to enforce such measures the same could be said for the use of cleaning burning stoves.

Fearful that the focus on short-lived climate gases will deter from the current GHG reductions efforts, the UNEP/WMO study warns that deep and immediate carbon dioxide reductions are still required to protect against long-term climate.

The measures identified by the study complement but do not replace anticipated carbon dioxide reduction measures. For major carbon dioxide reduction strategies target the energy and large industrial sectors and therefore would not necessarily result in significant reductions in emissions of black carbon or the ozone precursors methane and carbon monoxide.

As with many environmental problems, we know the cause, we the know the effects and we know the solutions but we are still faced with the barriers of political apathy and public resistance that stifles progress in resolving the problem.

The study clearly demosntrates the benefits of taking action on black carbon and ground-level ozone (and its precursors) have of a number climate change, public health and food security benefits especially in developing countries where health and food are high priorities.

All we need now is to put what we know into practice.

© Gary Haq 2011

Whatever the Weather …

WITH snowfall, sub-zero temperatures, ice, fog and treacherous conditions on the roads bringing the UK and other European countries to a halt, its hard to believe that global warming is really happening.

Yet 2010 has seen global temperature rise to near record levels. According to the UK Met Office, provisional global temperature figures have put 2010 on track to become the first or second warmest on record. This is despite a declining El Niño, a climatic phenomenon that is characterised by unusually warm temperatures, being replaced La Niña that has had a strong cooling effect. Climate sceptics are quick to point to the recent big freeze as evidence to suggest that climate change is a load of baloney.

However, many people fail to make the distinction between climate – the average weather patterns over years – and weather, which is a series of short-term events that can change dramatically from one day to the next. The big freeze is a mere blip in the overall long-term trend that has seen global temperatures rise. So what has been the cause of the recent cold weather?

A study by the University of Reading (UK) has linked the unusual cold winters in northern Europe to periods of low sunspot activity and atmospheric conditions that “block” warm westerly winds. Changes in the fast moving winds in the upper atmosphere, known as jet streams, can have a major influence on weather. Jet streams normally bring mild, wet and westerly winds that cause the winter weather we have come to expect.

However, when the jet stream is blocked it forms an “s” shape over the northeastern Atlantic, causing the wind to fold back on itself. This pushes the jet stream further northwards allowing cold, dry easterly winds to flow over Europe which results in a sharp fall in temperature. The phenomenon of “blocking” only affects a limited geographical area and its impact is dependent on a number of conditions being met before it occurs. Allowing for climate change, European winters have been 0.5 degrees Celsius colder than average during years of low solar activity.

The winter of 2009 was England’s eighteenth coldest in 350 years even though the global temperatures were the fifth highest. It still unclear why changes in solar activity affects weather patterns, which indicates that we still have a lot to learn about the complex interactions and feedback loops that characterise the climate system. Throughout history we have feared and revered the weather and have tried to make sense of this natural phenomenon that has such a powerful influence on our way of life.

The weather has not only played a role in shaping our physical environment such as our landscape and coastline, it has fashioned our cultural identity. It influences how we feel, how we spend our leisure time, how we socialise, how we work and what we wear. We have become notorious throughout the world for our obsession with the weather. British weather is so variable and unpredictable throughout the year; it is not surprising that we talk so much about it.

Unlike climate change that remains a controversial issue, the weather is a safe topic of conversation which we happily discuss with total strangers and use to avoid sensitive or personal matters.

There was a time when we use to look to the skies and believed that the weather was determined by some higher being, a time when we tried to predict the weather by observing changes in the natural environment. Today we look down to the latest application on our mobile phone to get weather forecasts based on observations using instruments analysed with the aid of computers. Yet despite advances in science and technology that has allowed us to control nature, we still remain vulnerable to extreme weather events.

In early December 2010 190 nations met in Cancun, Mexico to discuss the international response to the challenge of climate change. The meeting was successful in producing an agreement which outlines a near global consensus to take urgent action to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Acknowledging the rich world’s historical responsibility for climate change, the Cancun Agreement establishes mechanisms for transferring funds from rich countries to poor counties to spend on climate protection.

However, it does not provide legally binding emission targets and only urges rich nations to do more. While the Agreement has saved the negotiation process it has yet to save the climate. Nevertheless campaigners believe the foundation has now been set to provide a more comprehensive agreement at the next round of climate talks.

If we are to avoid any disruption of the climate system on which we are so naturally dependent, we need to take action sooner rather than later. The lessons from the last few weeks should have taught us that the weather is King and has the ability to bring the whole country to its knees in a matter of hours – we ignore its power at our peril.

© Gary Haq 2010

Photo credits: www.shutterstock.com

Putting the SIZZLE into Going Green

GOING Green is a bit like making love – nearly everyone likes the idea of it. Some people do it on a daily basis, some every week, others less frequently, while some individuals just do not get around to doing it at all.

GOING Green is a bit like making love – nearly everyone likes the idea of it. Some people do it on a daily basis, some every week, others less frequently, while some individuals just do not get around to doing it at all.

Back in 2007, at the peak of our eco-awareness, climate change and the carbon footprint seemed new and interesting. There was unprecedented media coverage of green issues and the public, politicians and business leaders were all developing a passion for the planet.

Prince Charles’s recently undertook a green tour of Britain on a bio-fuelled royal train. Despite green living receiving royal approval, there are signs of “green fatigue” setting in as political, public and media interest in environmental issues begins to wane. The UK’s new coalition Government’s decision to get rid of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and the independent watchdog, the Sustainable Development Commission, clearly signalled the downgrading of environmental issues.

This is despite David Cameron’s promise to put the environment at the heart of government. Former chair of the Sustainable Development Commission, Jonathan Porritt, described the decision as “crass, unfounded, self-defeating and ideologically-motivated”.

The climategate and glaciergate fiasco has increased public scepticism over climate change science. A recent Ipsos Mori survey of UK public attitudes to climate change found that although the majority of respondents believe that climate change is happening, levels of concern have fallen since 2005, and less than one-third of the population currently consider it to be a purely man-made phenomenon. However, most people consider that it is their responsibility to take action and feel that they personally can make a difference.

The waxing and waning of public interest in environmental issues is nothing new. In 1967, Britain experienced its first major oil disaster when the oil tanker, Torrey Canyon, struck a rock, causing the oil pollution of 120 miles of the Cornish coastline.

Dramatic environmental disasters such as this, together with key publications on the ecological limits to economic growth, increased public concern.

By 1972, environmental issues were placed on the international political agenda when nations gathered together for the first UN Earth Summit in Stockholm. It resulted in governments establishing ministries of the environment and introducing environmental legislation.

Although the 1970s’ oil price rises dampened public interest in green issues, a decade later interest was renewed by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, a rise in green consumerism, ethical investment and increased activity of Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace. In 1992, the Rio Earth Summit ensured that world leaders embraced the idea of sustainable development and initiated action for a global convention on climate change.

When we are doing well, we are motivated to go green but during an economic downturn we tend to lose interest. It is therefore not surprising that in this new age of austerity we are starting to suffer from green fatigue.

In an economic recession consumers tighten their belts, sales figures fall and companies close down and stop producing polluting emissions. For example, in 2009, EU greenhouse gas emissions fell by seven per cent. A lower demand for energy has been linked to the economic recession as well as cheaper natural gas and increased renewable energy use.

Nowadays most people are familiar with the concept of the carbon footprint. Unfortunately, being aware of the environmental impact of our individual lifestyle choices does not necessarily mean we will change our behaviour. After all, we know that smoking can cause lung cancer, eating junk food can lead to heart disease and obesity and binge drinking is bad for the liver, but we still carry on regardless.

For too long, green campaigns have sold the threat of what would happen if we do not mend our ways. The danger of a “climate hell” has caused some people to switch off.

Back in the 1940s, US salesman, Elmer Wheeler, advised businesses on his “Don’t sell the sausage, sell the sizzle!” marketing approach. Wheeler’s big secret to successful selling was that you do not advertise the sausage itself as it is the desirable sounds and smells of the “sizzle” that make people hungry and want to buy it. There is increasing recognition that the “selling the sausage” approach to green issues is not delivering the fundamental changes required for us to stay within ecological limits.

A report by Futerra, a green communications consultancy, on “Selling the Sizzle: the new climate message” argues that in order to reinvigorate public and media interest, campaigns need to focus on a vision of a greener life that is positive and appealing to all.

Gary Haq discusses green issues with Ed Milliband
The recent election of Ed Milliband as the new leader of Labour Party, now the official opposition to the British government provides hope for many environmentalists.

Mr Milliband was the former Secretary of State for the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change and is a passionate advocate of action on climate change.

He recently reiterated his belief that “climate change is the greatest global threat facing our generation “, adding that “it should be at the very heart of our plan for a successful economy, at the centre of our foreign policy and integral to our mission to change Britain”.

Many environmentalists are hoping that Mr Milliband will now put climate change back on the political agenda after he has criticised the Coalition Government’s claim to be the ‘greenest ever’ as an empty gesture.

So far, environmentalists have failed to effectively communicate a compelling vision of a greener future. It is therefore time to stop selling the notion of a climate hell and start selling a “green heaven”. Let’s put the sizzle back in to going green and demonstrate that a transition to a low carbon society ultimately means a better quality of life for everyone.

© Gary Haq 2010

Photo credits: Shutterstock